The U.S. Forest Service is holding a public meeting tonight to discuss a proposed fee increase at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center starting with the 2016 tourist season.
Not only is the agency looking to raise the fee for the visitor center itself, but for the first time it wants to charge people for the use of some nearby trails.
Visitor center director John Neary says it would be the first cost increase at the facility since 1999, and would help offset federal budget cuts.
“What Congress allocates us is in rapid decline,” Neary says. “My budget – the Congressionally-allocated portion – has dropped 50 percent in just the last couple of years, not to mention previous drops.”
Under the proposal, the visitor center entry fee would go from $3 to $5, and a new $5 fee would be charged to use the Photo Point Trail, the Steep Creek Trail, the viewing pavilion, bus shelter and restrooms.
Other areas near the Mendenhall Glacier, including the Nugget Falls Trail, the Trail of Time and the East and West Glacier Trails would continue to be free. Seasonal passes would cost $10 and the fees would be waived during the tourism off season.
While reaction on some message boards has been largely negative since the proposal was announced last month, Neary says the written comments he’s received have been 2-to-1 in favor of the increase.
“I’m aware that there’s a significant amount of people that have concerns,” he says. “I’m not hearing from them by email. So that is the official way to comment is by email, by letter or by phone call directly to us.”
Or, he says, you can go to tonight’s meeting at the visitor center from 5 to 7 p.m.
The comment period lasts through Jan. 30. After that, the agency will consider all of the comments and make a final decision later this year.